Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Magnifying Glass - The Power Of The Sun In Your Hand

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire!

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was a simple magnifying glass. I did not use it for constructive purposes such as studying plants and bugs. I used it to burn things! My favorite thing to do was wreak havoc on an ant hill by burning the ants. They exploded with a satisfying POP! I also loved to burn my name in boards and sticks. Magnifying glasses are just plain fun!

It has been decades since I last did this. But once you learn a skill like burning things with only the sun's power, you never forget it. Magnifying glasses can be a useful fire starting tool. While they have some serious limitations, take practice to use, and require a specific technique; magnifying glasses also have some great benefits.

 Any magnifying glass will work. The larger the lens and more powerful the magnification, the better. Those credit card sized pocket magnifying glasses work well and are easy to slip in your wallet.

The basic idea of this method is to hold the glass out way from whatever you want to burn and focus the beam of light onto the smallest possible area. This works to funnel the light and heat onto one spot. It is amazing how much head can be generated this way.

The goal of starting a fire with a magnifying glass is not to create a flame, although that would be nice. The goal is to create an ember. From an ember you can ignite loose, dry tinder.

So, the first step is to take a small handful of the very driest tinder you can find and rub it in your hands until you have created a compressed, tight ball. This is going to be our ember.

Focus the light beam onto the tinder ball. Move the beam around, burning as much as you can. You know you have a good ember when the tinder ball smokes by itself. This can take several minutes.

Place the ember in a nest of lose, dry tinder. Blow on the ember hard. If you have a good ember and your tinder is dry, you should quickly have flames.

Here is a video of the process:


Magnifying glasses have some obvious drawbacks. They do not work at night, when it is cloudy, or in the shade. You need direct sunlight. This can be hard to find in a survival situation. They also take a small measure of skill to use. In emergency situations you want to make a fire simply and quickly.

On the positive side, magnifying glasses never run out. Lighters, matches, even firesteels run out eventually. Magnifying glasses will make fire forever. They also do not require any special tinder, any dry, natural fiber will do. They can be small and lite, so there is little harm in keeping one in your pocket.

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